I was CAGED at a Dolly Parton concert. Not for any infringement on my part, but having managed to somehow convince promoters that I should be allowed access to a sold-out Dolly gig, the lack of available seats meant that I was decanted to a rigged and barred metal cage usually used for lighting and sound engineers. A closing three numbers of Jolene, 9 to 5 and I Will Always Love You made it well worth the indignity. Parton was, and still is a huge star, and her cinematic launch was a red hot hit back in 1980, a feminist comedy about office politics that was one of the year’s biggest successes.
The driving force here is Jane Fonda, who fancied taking a look at women’s issues in the modern workplace, and decided to launch as a comedy with the help of Lily Tomlin. Fonda plays Judy, a reserved housewife who works alongside Violet (Tomlin) in the office of Franklin Hart Jr (Dabney Coleman); they initially resent Doralee (Parton) because Hart has insinuated that they slept together, even though they are both married. A spare marijuana joint bonds the girls together and they each imagine a fantasy in which they get their own back on their boss, accurately termed to be ‘a sexist, egotist, lying hypocritical bigot’ But getting ahead in the workplace proves to be more difficult than that, and after accidentally putting rat-poison in his coffee, the trio end up kidnapping him and bringing a woman’s common-sense touch to the workplace, with flexitime and creches galore.
For once, the consumption of drugs is honestly handled here, the girls chose to enjoy a smoke, and it opens their eyes to their sisterhood; not surprisingly, Ronald and Nancy Reagan hated this scene on a Just Say No basis. But although there’s a few missed swipes here, Colin Higgins’ comedy, based on a script by Patricia Resnick, generally feels like it’s got its heart in the right place. The zany, wacky idea of what would happen if women were given the chance to call the shots in the workplace, something hard to imagine even forty years later, isn’t handled for laughs, but the behaviour of the men is the subject of outright ridicule and deservedly so.
With a catchy theme song, four strong leading performances, and a hard-wired PC message about how women simply won’t accept being mistreated by men, 9 to 5 is something of a progressive work, even if some of the contrivances recall old-school farces, notably when the girls steal the wrong corpse from a hospital. But the film is personable, likable, and often funny, and although notions for remakes and reboots have fizzled, Fonda, Parton and Tomlin re-united for an awards show back in 2017 on the cusp of the MeToo movement. Shaming men by their own behaviour is the point, and the feminist first-responders featured in 9 to 5 call out their misogynist workplace bullies with infectious spirit and enthusiasm.